Keep your clouts on (tree following, May 2015)

The old verse / proverb / saying / whatever is something like ‘cast ne’r a clout till may be out’. It doesn’t mean ‘don’t throw clouts at people’ (clouts are clothes anyway) and it doesn’t refer to the month. It refers to the flowering of the hawthorn – or the may tree – and instructs you not to remove a single garment until it blossoms. I’ve been putting on garments rather than casting them off, and also lighting stoves, filling the oil tank, etc. It’s been cold.

We had a warm spell about three weeks ago, and I took myself off to the hawthorn I am following to make sure that I wasn’t missing out on blossom time. I wasn’t; the blackthorns were covered, but the hawthorn was just beginning to show a green haze:

tree and gorse

and the gorse was amazing. The whole area smelled heavily of coconut, rather like a hen party in Spain – a mixture of suntan oil and Malibu.

That was then. A couple of days later the weather shifted and a lot of things seemed to go into a sort of suspended animation in which they changed only slowly. But nothing stands still for ever (OK, arguable, perhaps) and things are shifting again:

hawthorn tree

The tree is now well covered in young leaves. Some, however, are showing signs of damage – I suspect that is from the terrible gales we’ve been having and, particularly, from one which was accompanied by hail. I’m fairly sure that was the culprit as most of the damaged leaves seemed to be on the landward side of the tree – and that was the (less usual by a long way) direction of the freezing gales.

However, it’s definitely picking up – and the newest, freshest, baby leaves have a beautiful red-pink colour as they open, which I have never really noticed before:

baby leaf

and that’s despite us kids snacking off them on the way home from primary school. They were called ‘bread and cheese’, and I’ve found that this is a remarkably common name across huge parts of northern Britain. Some people think it refers to their use as food in times of dearth (which would fit with the timing – this is the ‘hungry gap’ – but seems a bit far-fetched), and others just think ‘it’s a nickname’. Well, dur – nicknames come from somewhere… but where?

almost there

The flowers, however, are still very tightly in bud.

Around the tree, life is going on. The lambs are bigger, more adventurous and a lot less likely to gallop off hysterically as you approach; instead they look you straight in the eye and either stay put or get up slowly and deliberately and wander off as though they were going in that direction anyway. The road surface holds the heat, and is a favourite place to sit and snooze:

road lambs

When I left London, way back in 2002, I opened the window on my first morning here – I was staying at a friend’s place up the hill because the house I’d just bought was uninhabitable – and saw loads of sheep sitting contentedly on the road outside the farm buildings. I instantly realised that I had not made a rash decision, that I was back where I ought to be, in the hills and the countryside and away from all that city stuff. I grew up avoiding sheep resting on the road – not a hazard you encounter very often in south London – and it felt instantly right. Still a sight I enjoy!

This, on the other hand, was something of a surprise in amongst all the sheep:

wild goat

Just the one wild goat, aka gafr wyllt, officially the feral goat. There is a substantial population here (well, on what the Snowdonia Mammal Group describes as the Rhinogydd uplands), but I’ve never seen one this low down – higher up, yeah, loads – or this close either; generally in the distance, moving in flocks. As a child in Scotland we used to go out ‘wild goat spotting’ on summer evenings, and it was something of a result when we glimpsed one in the distance. The population here has somewhat exploded in recent years (there’ve been selective culls), but I’ve never been so close. Never. Amazing.

However, it’s not the tree. Here is a small montage of ‘my’ may tree in, well, May (click on an image for a slideshow):

And thanks to Lucy at Loose and Leafy for hosting this meme – without it I’d never have been eyeballed by a wild goat. Bet that’s one of the more unusual results of tree following! (Do check out some of the links to other blogs on her site, tree addicts – people are following a wide range of trees and it’s really interesting.)

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24 thoughts on “Keep your clouts on (tree following, May 2015)

  1. Pauline

    Our hawthorn is just starting to flower, the blackthorn was over a long time ago. There is so much of it along the Devonshire lanes, another week and all the hedges will be white. Love the lambs at this time of year but feel sorry for them in all the rain and gales that we’ve been having.

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      We have hail forecast for Tuesday… guess that will put an end to what remains of my blossom here. My hawthorn had better keep its buds highly furled!

      It’s the blackthorn that does that for us – it can be quite amazing. The hawthorn is good, but I remember once catching a train to London at this time of year and being stunned by how amazing it was in the Midlands (maybe the Midland Hawthorn, of course). BRRRRRRRRRR

      Reply
    1. kate Post author

      So unusual to see goats… I’m used to being careful around cattle up there, but never expected to have to avoid a goat!

      Reply
  2. Cathy

    The lambs around here have been frolicking for weeks but up in the Outer Hebrides this last week they were still tiny and unsteady on their feet. How nice to know that you won’t need to take a packed lunch on your tree visits as you will be able to eat it while you study it … 😉

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      Hah! It’s been a long time since I actually ate any hawthorn bread and cheese – can’t remember what it tasted like, if anything, I must give it a go…

      Poor lambs, so cold…

      Reply
  3. VP

    I looked out the window today and realised the May is out at last. Having spent a day at Malvern Show where the day’s surprise was how delicious Magnolia petals are, it’s about time I sampled the ‘bread and cheese’ Hanging over the fence. Thanks for the reminder 🙂

    Reply
  4. Janet/Plantaliscious

    Just starting to see the blossom open in my hawthorn – last year’s tree. Wasn’t the goat fab! I sent a picture of him to a friend to welcome him to his fifties… Your hawthorn has a truly magnificent situation, I think mine is jealous.

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      My hawthorn is very old. Mind you, remembering last year’s tree, yours isn’t exactly a spring chicken either.

      I arranged the goat just for you… oh, OK, I was just as surprised as you were!

      Reply
  5. Chloris

    A lovely post. We used to call the young leaves ‘ bread and cheese’ as a children and nibble them on the way to school. I always look forward to the May blossom, it means summer is finally here. How nice to cast a few clouts.

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      Thank you – and hooray, it wasn’t just me eating hawthorn leaves. I really am going to have to try them again: Roger Phillips (in Wild Food) suggests a hawthorn and beetroot salad, and a potato one too, and says ‘the taste of the leaves is very light and delicate’…

      Reply
  6. Island Threads

    we’ve had similar weather to you Kate, ours included snow 2 weeks ago, your tree is very far on compared to my few hawthorns which are only just fattening their buds, I had not noticed the pink flush when they open so will be looking now, it is a nice shape with only a little wind shaping and being able to see it on it’s own is nice, Frances

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      Hi Frances, wow – at least we haven’t had snow as such, just sleet and hail. More is forecast for Tuesday, so I’ve just moved some things out of my unheated greenhouse and back into the house. It reached minus 6 just inland from here last night – eek!

      It’s a really pretty tree – this tree following is fab at making you really look at something you take for granted!

      Reply
  7. Angie

    You do realise that first thing tomorrow I’ll be out there nibbling on some Hawthorn leaves. I had no idea!
    That goat is a handsome fella, isn’t he? I’ve seen very few lambs in the fields this year – I wondered only the other day if the farmer had moved the elsewhere. I must keep a closer eye.
    Your tree is wonderfully mature, you can make out how it’s been sculptured by the wind too. Making it all the more interesting.

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      We should coordinate our tasting session, and then we can all compare notes!

      These lambs have just been moved up here – I suspect they were lower down, but I didn’t see them there. Their numbers have gradually increased and then suddenly boomed. Not that it’s much milder, mind, or the wind less intense. But their mums are hefted to these fields and the lambs are instinctively sheltering by the gorse thickets.

      Reply
  8. Lucy Corrander

    Our gorse is specially brilliant and dense this year too. The blackthorn (usually my favourite blossom because it sets the landscape out in squares) was a bit of a grey squid. Dare I try the hawthorn leaves? Every year I wonder – but haven’t yet built up the courage. Perhaps we should all do it together – have a ‘ready, steady, go, swallow’.

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      Our blackthorn was fab but only for about a week, if that – I think the sudden blast of Arctic weather did for it, so that probably means very few sloes this year.

      Go for it on hawthorn – after all, we used to eat them as kids and we’re not dead. Maybe just a nibble!

      Reply
  9. Spade & Dagger

    I’m left worrying that I shall now get a little over excited whenever I see, or worse smell, gorse in the future!

    Reply
  10. Pat Webster

    I agree, it’s fascinating to read what others are writing about their trees. My favourite posts are ones like yours, that tell me things about the location where the tree is growing. Not necessarily tree-related things, but things like sheep lying down in the middle of the road and looking feral goats straight in the eye. (I had no idea there were feral goats in Wales.) I also love what we ourselves learn about ‘our’ trees. Isn’t it wonderful to watch something closely and to discover that the leaves you’d always taken for granted emerge tinged re-pink?

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      Isn’t it interesting seeing what everyone else does?

      I also like the discursive posts – I think it helps with that if your tree is somewhere where you can be eyeballed by goats, mind; not that many in the average garden, thank heavens. I really admire the ones who use a tree as a place to record things like visiting birds, and who have evidently spent ages literally ‘watching’ their tree. My life just doesn’t allow me to do that – but smaller periods of close observation are really rewarding. Or they are if you can observe closely without wondering if some goat is going to charge!

      Reply
      1. Pat Webster

        I hope my life will slow down enough for me to sit under my linden tree and watch for birds, bugs and anything else that comes for a visit. Maybe even the odd neighbour or two. (It helps if they are odd…) But I double that it will.

        Reply
        1. kate Post author

          Hopefully it will – I found taking a few minutes out to watch insect life on my birch tree really restful last year. Now I have a 20-min walk to my tree, it’s not happening as much. Great tree, but that’s a downside.

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